Inside Out

Make the most of your backyard and warm Wisconsin summers with extravagant outdoor spaces.


Photo courtesy of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc.

Adding a simple patio or pergola can create an outdoor oasis. But local landscapers have noticed  homeowners stepping up their backyard game, adding luxurious open-air living, dining and kitchen spaces that bring their indoor aesthetic outside.

“Most people on the starter end of things do fire pits,” says Missy Reinholtz, president of Mukwonago’s Createscape Landscaping Service Inc. “Then they might add a grill island. Then they start adding a bar and then it’s, ‘Oh, a fireplace is really nice.’ And then it just expands from there.”

Providing an abundance of entertaining options, outdoor living spaces also increase usable living space and an extended sense of “home” while maximizing homeowners’ opportunity to enjoy our fleeting warm weather.

“Today’s life is fast-paced and people need a place to relax and feel like they can get away from everyday business,” says Zach Lieven, associate landscape architect and client service representative president at David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc. “[Plus], many people work from home. Getting outside can give people a feeling like they are getting away from that workload, even if it’s only a couple feet from outside the patio door.”

An outdoor kitchen keeps cooking odors outside — and, believe it or not, has a positive impact on your electric bill too. Heat from stovetops and ovens can kick your A/C into overdrive; taking that heat outside will prevent your bill from rising too. Smokers, pizza ovens and full-scale bars add endless cooking and entertaining options. Reinholtz also notes that outdoor refrigerators, paper towel holders and additional storage can complete an open-air kitchen. A luxurious outdoor dining area to enjoy your meals alfresco perfectly complements your new cooking space.

What feature specifically separates a true outdoor living room or kitchen from an ordinary deck or patio seating space? Simple: a wall.

“In the past, decks and patios were a rectangle or square space with no shade and little privacy from the neighbors,” says Lieven. “Today, people want lighting, shade, sitting and lounging space, an eating and grilling space. The spaces are designed to allow you to do what you like to do indoors, out in the backyard.”

In addition to defining the ‘room,’ a solid vertical feature can hold a TV or entertainment system, perfect for hosting outdoor movie nights or catching an onscreen sports event alfresco. “I am asked how to do [outdoor entertainment systems] all the time,” Lieven says. “More and more people want to invite their friends over to watch the Brewers, Packers [or] Bucks outside on the patio — or watch anything else too!”

To make yourself and your guests extra comfy, add plush and roomy outdoor lounge furniture — think chunky chairs, sofas and loungers in natural materials with luxurious patterned or brightly colored cushions. And consider a freestanding umbrella, shade cloth, pergola or partial roof to offer relief from the summer sun while you and your family and guests enjoy the summer breeze.

“Gathering spaces are being designed for more of a hang-out space rather than the typical six-person table and an umbrella like patios of the past,” Lieven says. “People come home from work and they’ve been bottled up in a building all day. It’s a chance to unwind outside.”

And just as the right plants and plant containers enhance your indoor living space, thinking green — or all the colors of the rainbow — is key to luxe outdoor living spaces too. The right plants, grasses, trees and shrubbery create a pretty frame for your outdoor havens, while bug-repelling plants like catnip, marigold, peppermint and citronella plants prevent insects from sending you scurrying back indoors. Give nature a hand and add ambiance with tiki torches and citronella candles.

Reinholtz and Lieven agree that turning your backyard into an extension of your indoor living space does more than boost your enjoyment of Wisconsin’s warmer seasons — it increases the value of your home as well. “Think about [your home as] a nice painting in an art gallery,” Lieven adds. “One person might not think the painting is that great, but you put it in a cool or stylish frame and then more people love it. That is how a landscape works. It is the ‘nice frame.’ If the house is awesome, but the yard isn’t that cool, many people won’t see the house as nice. A house might sell quicker because people like the landscape and don’t have to invest more money to make the landscape nice.”

No matter how you choose to expand your outdoor living areas, Reinholtz urges you to find a designer and contractor you trust to create the perfect space right from the start.

“Be sure that you’re using a reputable business and using quality materials,” Reinholtz notes. “If [the project] is not designed well, oftentimes the flow doesn’t really work. And if it not’s constructed well, it can fail.”

“Go online and print or save pictures of things that you like,” Lieven adds. “Cut out photos from magazines. Think about trips you have taken and what made that trip fun and relaxing. ... While budget is important, a landscape architect needs to know your full wish list. Then, when budget is discussed, the landscape architect can tailor the design to pull parts of the list while meeting the budget.”

And when that space is spot-on, get out and enjoy it, in solitude or with your favorite people.“I find that people use their outdoor spaces as mental therapy,” Lieven says. “It puts their mind in a relaxed state.” MKE

Photo courtesy of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc.